Miami Marlins Season Preview: Bold Predictions

What is in store for the Miami Marlins and their new stadium in 2012? Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Well, tonight is the night. After an offseason of speculation and many days pondering what could be, we finally will get a chance to see what is with regards to the 2012 Miami Marlins. At least for one night, the Marlins will be front and center, occupying the national stage for the world to see officially for the first time. If you are a Marlins fan, there is no better place to be at 7 pm on Wednesday, April 4, than either in front of your television tuned into ESPN or in Marlins Ballpark right in front of the action.

But tonight is just the beginning of what could be the greatest season in Marlins history, and while it is an historic event, it is just one of many in what hopefully proves to be a great season. And during the season preview series we have run here at Fish Stripes, we have been trying to figure out how the Miami Marlins would perform in 2012, but now is not the time for mathematical projections. Now is the time for a good, solid, gut impression of what we will see in 2012. Here are a few bold predictions about what I think will happen this year with the Marlins.

Hanley Ramirez will be healthy, hit .300/.380/.480, and perform well at third base

I know this actually just looks like what we projected earlier, but making any sort of prediction about Ramirez's chances is as bold as it gets in 2012. After his collapse in 2011, it is hard to tell exactly where he will be this season. It is actually a good thing we saw a version of this Ramirez at some point of his career, otherwise it would be difficult to point to anything as an example of what we should expect. Yes, this projection is neither a return to the MVP seasons of 2007 to 2009, nor is it the collapse year of 2011, and perhaps at this point, this is what we should expect to see. It would not be the first time a player went from being an MVP-caliber player to just a really good, All-Star caliber type, and few teams in baseball can boast that they have All-Star players at third base, so Marlins fans should at least be happy about the return of a healthy and happy Hanley Ramirez.

Giancarlo Stanton will be an MVP candidate

I do not necessarily believe he will deserve to be an MVP candidate, but I do believe that he will post big traditional numbers and be on the radar of mainstream writers, thanks in part to the Marlins' newfound publicity. Stanton may be just an All-Star level player this year (remember, we projected him for 5.4 WAR this season, which is just below an MVP-level six-win campaign), but with his package of power and his spot in the Marlins' cleanup position, he should rack up tons of home runs and RBI. And as we have seen with countless other players (Ryan Howard being the best example among them), MVP candidates are almost certainly loaded with home runs and RBI, giving Stanton a great chance at at least being in the running for the award. Ultimately, he likely will not win it simply because his batting average (projected at .264) will probably be too low for mainstream writers to appreciate, but he could end the year among the 20 best hitters in baseball overall.

Josh Johnson will throw 190 innings

Our projection said 164 1/3 innings as an average, and with that number, Johnson still was projected to put up a 4.5-win season. But I think Johnson is just the type of starter who will either miss a few games or most of the year with injury, so I am banking on him having a successful season with a few injury setbacks. Marlins fans can live with a few starts missed in between his usual brilliance, and while he may not be as good as he was a few seasons ago or even early last year (projected 2.99 ERA), he does not have to be if he can stay healthy throughout most of the year. The Marlins need an ace, and hopefully they get one in 2012.

Ricky Nolasco and Carlos Zambrano will have a combined ERA of 4.10.

This Marlins rotation may be the best the team has ever boasted, but this claim is based primarily on the risky, up-and-down nature of the team's fourth- and fifth-best starters. Ricky Nolasco and Carlos Zambrano are volatile quantities; if you blink or look away for a second, you may not see them performing up to their talent level. Nolasco has been mercurial for years, and Zambrano is coming off of his worst season. Both are not being asked for much with the presence of Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, and Mark Buehrle, but for the Marlins to truly take the next step, they will have to perform at around a league average rate. For my money, they can do it. Zambrano is due for some home run regression after last year's explosion, so even if his strikeouts and walks remain almost as bad as they were last season, we should see some return to a lesser version of his 2009 and 2010 seasons. And although I am now convinced that whatever is ailing Nolasco with runners on, it is some real effect that requires either mechanical or approach tuning, I think this will be the season he turns in an ERA around or below 4.00 after three straight years teasing Marlins fans and fantasy owners.

The Miami Marlins will draw two million fans for home games this year.

This is a huge undertaking for the Fish given their numerous attendance woes of years past, but there are a few things on their side:

- A new stadium always brings in fans, especially in the first year.

- There is a bigger buzz around the Marlins than there has ever been around the team. I do not believe that the Fish had more eyes on them than even after their 2003 World Series season.

This combination of qualities may be just enough to get the Marlins to draw money at the gates, even if it just for this season. The team has not drawn that many fans since their inaugural season, so it will be a difficult task, but I see a bright future for this Miami Marlins club, and that includes at the gates of a beautiful new stadium.

The Miami Marlins will make one of the two Wild Card spots.

It would not be a bold prediction without a call for the team to make the playoffs, wouldn't it? But in this case, I think a playoff berth is realistic, especially with the addition of the second Wild Card spot. Even if that added spot is only for the right to "play in" to the actual playoffs, but for this team, it should not matter. The club is good enough to be on the fringes of contention, and the fringes this year are more playoff-accessible than ever before. And given the team's history, you know what happens when the club wins the Wild Card, right?

Later today, you can expect the full slate of goodies from regular season Fish Stripes coverage. I will be posting the game thread earlier than usual today, complete with a schedule of things that you can check out on ESPN in anticipation of the (stateside) Opening Night for MLB and the Miami Marlins. Stay tuned to Fish Stripes for all of the action of Opening Night!

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